Without sales, you don't have a business. And without social selling you don't have sales -- or at least not the level of sales you need to thrive.

Social social selling, the process of building stronger relationships with potential customers based on truly understanding their needs and problems (in short, better knowing the people you hope to do business with) is increasingly important to business owners and salespeople.

But just like any marketing and sales strategy, social selling isn't an occasional task--to be successful, consistency and perseverance are critical.

So I talked with Jonathan Lister, the Vice President of North America Sales for Sales Solutions at LinkedIn, about how to determine the effectiveness of your salespeople's social selling efforts.

Here's Jonathan:

"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," as the saying goes. This is especially true when we're talking about social selling--a relatively new skill set for many sales people. If you're not tracking how well (or not) your sales people use social selling techniques, this is a good time to start: There's a sort of arms race going on right now as companies push sales teams to ramp up their social selling acumen, now that they've seen signs that it works. Measuring and tracking social selling abilities, and encouraging improvements, means you won't fall behind the competition.

Measuring the skill and activity level of social selling not only requires ongoing monitoring, but it also takes getting everyone from champions to resistors on board. The plan below will give you more opportunity to build a social selling measurement program that succeeds.

Set goals. When objectives are clear and realistic, sales teams will be less likely to resist your social selling program. It's natural to get some pushback, but you'll want to win hearts and minds right at the beginning.

When you list goals, don't strive for every possible outcome--choose a select list of social selling skills that your team needs to polish. For example, you might choose branding--and by this, we mean personal branding as opposed to business branding. Suggest that sales reps make sure their LinkedIn profiles are accurate and up to date so that prospects can easily learn more about the sales people they might work with.

Also, you can ask your team to do a better job of sharing industry insights, such as status updates or blog posts, with contacts. Whatever you decide to focus on, it helps to have a tool for evaluating your chosen benchmarks and gauging performance. For instance, the Social Selling Index, which we use at LinkedIn, helps people zero in on the areas for improvement, and gets them excited about moving up the social selling ladder.

Set teams up for success. For social selling newbies, training and guidance from their peers will boost confidence. Consider using gamification tools when you're in training mode (and beyond), since it can add fun to the process.

When we've looked at the most successful social selling organizations, they often start out with a pilot program, made up of early adopters, who can accelerate adoption. Your pilot program should be accompanied by champions of social selling from every level, not just senior executives. Entry-level sales people can have a tremendous amount of passion for selling, and their enthusiasm will be infectious. On the other hand, you'll also get more attention (and therefore, buy-in) if you recruit an executive sponsor to talk up the program at every opportunity.

Track progress. You need to stay on top of the data to ensure your goals are met. Here's how: Track how many connections sales people made in the past week, or how often they've shared content, such as news stories or blog posts.

Monitoring progress is both a qualitative and a quantitative process. You need the metrics, but you also need to encourage the sharing of success stories that can help drive greater buy-in. Create ways to gather a steady pipeline of success stories about strengthened relationships or even closed deals. This is a good place for gamification--perhaps rewarding the best story of the week.

Stay motivated. Once your social selling program is out of the gate, keep the metrics up by highlighting the accomplishments of your champions. These don't always have to revolve around deals--they can focus on new relationships, prospects you've been longing to break into, or a blog post that earned likes and shares. This is where support from senior people can help: Ask them to talk up their social selling experiences in regular messages on your internal social networks.

Social selling isn't quite in every sales professional's DNA yet, so your salespeople need guidance on refining their skills. Many businesses know it has value, but they haven't put it into practice yet--so beat them to it for competitive advantage.